The Grove – Return

I hear it in your voice.  You’re telling me that you’ve decided to leave.  Soon you’ll be packing your bags and returning to your home country indefinitely.  You’re not sure what the future holds, you just know that this overseas chapter of your life needs to come to a close, at least for now.

I hear it in your voice, the twinge of shame.

It feels as if you’re handing in your badge, the one marked “Spiritual Hero.”  The badge that was pinned on you when you announced to the world, “I’m moving overseas to serve the Lord!”  We all know none of us deserves the hero title, but still, you have to admit, it feels nice to wear it.

But this life has taken its toll.  And you’re done.  You say, “Here’s my badge, title and all.”

You might be perfectly at peace with your decision to leave. Maybe your departure date was planned long ago.  But maybe you are the battle-worn soldier waving a white flag to walk away from it all.

Whatever your reason for returning, beware of the lies that try to sneak in.

The ones that say you’re less than those who stay.

The ones that whisper in your ear, “You couldn’t cut it, could you?”

The ones that tell you, “You should have more to show for yourself.”

Maybe you’re wishing for more measurable results to pack up in your bag, more newsletter-worthy stories, more moving accounts to share from a microphone, to prove that it was worth it, to know that you are worth it.

You don’t say all this, but I see it in your eyes, I hear it in the twinge of your voice.

Can I scoot my chair right next to yours for a moment?  Can I sling an arm round your shoulder and tell you something?

Those of us who stay, we do not judge you.  If anybody in this whole wide world gets it, we do.

Behind the shield of our shiny badges, in our deep down honest hearts, we know.  We know that we are all just one step away from following you.  One phone call.  One medical test. One flip of the calendar. One word from the Lord. One straw upon the camel’s back. We could all be on your heels.

We do not judge you.  We understand, and we affirm you.

We affirm that the Father loves you, delights in you, not for what you do or where you live, but because you are you, his beloved.

Your honor is not tied to your address.  You serve the Lord and you serve him from either side of the sea. 

There is a time to go and a time to return.  And there is no shame, no hierarchy in the kingdom.  There’s freedom and honor for all.  There’s only one real badge we wear and it’s marked, “His Beloved.”

So go.  Go with freedom and your head held high.  Move into the next chapter of his purposes for you with joy and expectation.  And let your real badge shine.

Now let me give you a big ol’ hug.  But know it’s not a goodbye hug. If you’ve found a home here at Velvet Ashes, then it’s a forever home.  You are one of us no matter where you live.


Now it’s your turn to share your heart, your words, your art on our prompt “Return.”

Here’s how:

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Photo Credit: Grant MacDonald via Compfight cc


  1. sandy May 8, 2014

    It’s been seven years since I left Asia.  Seven hard, lonely, guilt-ridden, ‘what was I thinking’,  ‘will I ever be used and blessed again’ years.  Seven years of rethinking, regretting, and rebooting.  Seven years of knowing I wasn’t meant to stay, but feeling I shouldn’t have left.  Feeling that I’d left Asia, and Love left me.  That shiny badge had been on my chest for so long that I didn’t know how to be Loved without it.  Removing the badge left an ugly, bleeding hole in all aspects of me:  purpose, place, relationships, meaning, assurance.  I bled for a long time.  I wish someone had pulled up a chair beside me then, slinging their arms over my shoulders, and whispered this grace into my life.  Thank you, Danielle, for being the voice of Grace.

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 8, 2014

      Sandy… I’m aching for you, for your seven hard, hard years.  I think you’re not alone.  I think that removed badge has left many hearts with bleeding holes.  I wish I could have whispered this grace seven years ago.  But praying today that grace will wrap you up, that Love will whisper in your ear, “You are mine.  You always have been, always will be.”  Praying joy and expectation for all that is yet to come for you.  Thank you for sharing so honestly.

    2. Patty Stallings May 8, 2014

      Sandy, thank you so much for sharing what your journey has been for the past seven years.  You’ve helped all of us better understand how painful returning can be.  May the God of all comfort breathe fresh grace and purpose into your soul in these coming days.
      (You’ve also made me so curious about what God has been forming in you through this long season.  I’d love to sit with you and hear more.)

  2. Amek Conklin May 8, 2014

    Excellent and well worded! Even after being back for three years now and knowing that this was the correct choice to make, it is good to be reminded of the truth because the lies are so easy to believe sometimes.  Thank you Danielle! Can use this in debriefing for TRAIN?  Love you guys!

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 8, 2014

      Thanks, Amek!  Yes, the lies are powerfully easy to believe.  Would love for you to use it at TRAIN.  Love to you guys!

  3. Erin Ackerman May 8, 2014

    Thank you for writing this post, Danielle! I just read it with tears flowing down my cheeks. You said everything so perfectly…we felt at peace when we made the decision to come back, but it’s still hard and there are still days for me when guilt sneaks up unexpectedly. I needed this reminder that our identity is not in what we do, or where we are, but in Christ. It means a lot to know that those who are still “there” do not judge us who came back “here.” Thank you.

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 8, 2014

      Oh, I’m so glad, Erin!  This was one of those posts where I felt like God was writing through me to some very specific people.  Love knowing you are one of them.

  4. Patty Stallings May 8, 2014

    A hearty AMEN, Danielle.  A big part of my current role in member care is helping people stay and thrive on the field.  AND to release with blessing as the Father calls them elsewhere.  Oh that we would be a community that tells one another “Well done and God speed” as friends and co-laborers depart from our corner of the world.

  5. Elizabeth May 8, 2014

    Thank you for putting words to these feelings of mine. Especially these: “Those of us who stay, we do not judge you.  If anybody in this whole wide world gets it, we do. Behind the shield of our shiny badges, in our deep down honest hearts, we know.  We know that we are all just one step away from following you.  One phone call.  One medical test. One flip of the calendar. One word from the Lord. One straw upon the camel’s back. We could all be on your heels.”

    That is what I never could figure out how to say, as I have two dear friends leaving this field in the next month. (Because everywhere is field to serve. . .) And it’s so sad, and it’s so hard, both for the ones leaving and for the ones staying, but never ever in my heart have I thought anything judgmental about my friends’ decisions. I know they are stepping out in faith and following God for the next step, even though following can hurt so badly, for everyone involved.

    And my deepest desire is that the community who welcomes them next will also withhold judgment, and instead, listen to their stories, stories of victories and stories of pain, and that my dear friends will feel the love of the Father in physical form, by way of His children.

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 9, 2014

      Yes, it is so hard, for both those leaving and those staying!  Your friends have a true gift in you, Elizabeth!  Hoping the same for your friends, for all those transitioning.

  6. Mary Beth May 9, 2014

    Thank you for this. Chills, and a little eye stinging involved. I was wondering if / when returning was going to be shared here, and i am so grateful for the warmth and grace of your post. I am starting to tell more students and friends goodbye for now, and it’s hard. i do have regrets. Overall, i feel like i have done my best, but there are a few things i wish i had known (uh, of course).  I am trying to identify the regrets and speak truth into those: i wish i had been more confident, less guarded. The truth is that most days i was doing the absolute best i could. Living in the what-ifs isn’t productive. i want to identify the areas that looking back on i wish i could have done a little differently, recognize why i didnt do xyz at the time and then let it inform my future. but i will not live in the past or be bogged down by regrets.


    This week i was skyping with my mom and discussing my most recent newsletter i said, “I just want people to know how hard i am working.” She said, “if God is the only person that knows that is okay.” That was so freeing to me. He knows. That is enough.

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 9, 2014

      Your mother is a wise woman!  And yes, we all have things we could have/should have done differently.  But regrets do just bog us down.  Sounds like you are processing really well.

  7. Mallary May 9, 2014

    This was just what I needed to hear.  Thanks.

  8. Suzan May 9, 2014

    As I fought the depression this morning brought on by the voices “You’re not good enough. You couldn’t even finish your contracted time.” I wondered how I would live life in the US.
    Gods love is so evident in His timing. That I just now read this post. And so I know that love continues with me all the way back to life in the States. Thank you.

  9. Danielle Wheeler May 9, 2014

    So thankful for His timing. Yes, love goes with you! You are His Beloved…always. Walk forward in freedom.

  10. Kaylynn May 10, 2014

    We’ve been in Asia for 9 months, and I’ve been clinging to the sense of perseverance I knew would be required for the initial adjustment period. Just hang on. Stick it out. They all say it gets better. What has surprised me, though, is the sense of jealously I’ve felt for our friends and acquaintances who have finished their stints abroad, 8 years, 5 years, and are moving home. As hard as I know it will be for them to re-enter, that it won’t necessarily feel like “home” for them anymore, I never expected upon hearing of their decision to go back to wistfully feel envious that their commitment is up, that this season is coming to an end, that this phase is almost done. How awful a realization, that in my identification with their journey I’m already desiring an official stamp of “time served” and anticipate moving on. Especially when I acknowledge how unlikely it is that I’ll actually feel that way when/if the time comes.

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 11, 2014

      Kaylynn, I think you’ve touched on something here that many of us have felt at one time or another – envy of those returning.  Know that you’re not alone in those feelings.  I’ll refrain from saying, “Just hang on.” 🙂  For now, I’ll just sit with you and say, I’ve felt that too.  You’re not alone.

    2. Kim A. May 11, 2014

      Oh my this totally resonates with what I have feeling.  We are 4 months into our family’s move to Fiji and I told my husband last week that I wish I could just go to sleep and wake up in 5 years and God will have done something amazing through us.  Thank you for voicing this.  I am sooo excited about this community and blog (I just found it yesterday…thank you Lord)!!

      1. Julie June 30, 2014

        Wow.  I haven’t had the courage to admit this.  We have been in Ecuador since March, and I find myself many times thinking towards the end of our commitment.  I have heard people talk about overseas workers having a “honeymoon period”.  I surely haven’t experienced that!  We are both struggling with the language to a point that some days I wonder if we can make it.  I already can hear Satan in my ears at times telling me I don’t measure up.  Sigh.  We did youth/young adult ministry in the states.  Once I had a young woman talk about how good God was because she had prayed for protection while she drove and He had answered.  My immediate response was, “what if He doesn’t?  What if you pray for something and He doesn’t answer the way you expect?  Is He still good, and still worthy or your praise?”  I feel the need to ask myself these questions now, because at times I wonder if He will answer the prayers for our language learning.  What if He doesn’t?  He is still worthy of my praise, but am I capable of serving here with limited language skills?


  11. Patty May 10, 2014

    We have been home for nine months, and I have felt the very way you describe and continue to feel that way. I know God called us home but it. Doesn’t make it easier. I feel unneeded and unused. People say,  oh you did such great things and I think yeah I left the kids just like everyone else, yes I go back to visit but it doesn’t change how I feel. I let them down. I have become Americanized again (unfortunately) but yet my heart will always be unwhole.  I have not  felt so far away from. God before yet I know I am the one  pushing him  away. Life was hard  over seas but life after overseas is much. Harder than. I ever thought it would be.

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 11, 2014

      Patty, your vulnerability here makes me catch my breath.  So real and so raw.  Can we all just have a good long cry over the pain of return?  All I know for certain is that God is longing to draw you near.  Thank you for sharing here.

  12. Debbie May 11, 2014

    For someone praying about returning your words are a blessing. I don’t know what the future holds but I know the ONE who knows and just trust in Him.

  13. Cecily Willard May 11, 2014

    The shame you speak about isn’t only for those who are returning.  Some who remain know that they have long given up the hero badge to live daily with the shame badge.  The work continues, seeking to follow God with a whole and sincere heart, but all the plans in the pocket of the hero came to nothing.  But God has not given the release to return.

    Where are the wonderful stories to write home about?  Why is there no Power Point presentation that makes people cry and shout?  What there is is faithfulness to stay when all becomes dark and nothing makes sense anymore.

    It’s a good thing that Jesus knows about the shame, for He scorned the badge and carried on to complete His great task.  And surely, surely there were moments that looked like absolute failures on His ministry account.

    Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  He is the only One keeping the score.

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 11, 2014

      Such a good point, Cecily.  The shame badge is one that so many carry here on the field.  “Plans in the pocket of the hero came to nothing.”  Wow, we could have a whole series on that, couldn’t we?

      You’re right, the Friday we call “Good” really looked like nothing but failure on the actual day.   Our God knows brokenness.

      Here’s to faithfulness when all our hero plans crumble.

      1. Cecily Willard May 22, 2014

        Thanks, Danielle, for responding to my comment.  More than two months have passed since I have seen a response to any of my comments in Velvet Ashes, so it is good to know that my words are heard by someone.  (And, I found your reply just today, hanging out in my spam folder.  Not sure what that’s about.) Anyway, it would help to have a discussion about presumed failures on the field.

  14. Malia May 12, 2014

    I’m gearing up to say goodbyes to several of my closest friends as they return to the states or relocate to other countries. Change is a big hit on us feeling the turnover too.

    Here’s a photo quote today since words fail me. (Thank you for this week’s focus on reentry.)

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 13, 2014

      Turnover is so hard on those that stay.  The photo quote such a good message for this.  Thank you for sharing.

  15. Beth May 12, 2014

    Thank you for this. We are headed back to the States next month, just for one year, but this transition has been sudden and frightening. I’ve questioned the future, our call, my worth. Because it’s so scary–we’ve all known those who go back for “just one year,” and never return. Thank you for reminding me that my worth is not in what I do or where I live, but in the love that my Father has for me. It is so easy to forget that most important of all facts!

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 13, 2014

      Oh, feeling for you!  Sudden change is so difficult!  Grateful these words resonated for you.

  16. Megan Doddridge May 12, 2014

    Thank you, thank you for this. I’ve held Velvet Ashes on my facebook feed at a distance because I’m not currently on foreign soil, feeling like an overseas worker at heart, but not in body. My husband and I returned from overseas a year ago and have lived in the painful and misunderstood, murky in-between, not certain if we’re going to staying. Your writing so validated my feelings in ways that I didn’t feel safe saying, even to myself. {Who would actually have the gall to talk about that shiny badge?!} As I became a mom two years into our assignment, but headlong planned to stay forever, my blog went silent and I struggled to know how to process any of what I experienced. Jesus redeems. Truly He does. But the return was as painful as the struggle that lead to it. I read this post to my husband, my own third time reading it, and teared up again feeling so known by another human, when before I had felt only known by the Lord. Thank you, thank you from a deep and untouched place in my soul for understanding and for validating the pain of the return. Thank you for such tenderness in turning hearts back to Jesus.

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 13, 2014

      Well, now you have ME tearing up, Megan.  To know this post reached that deep and untouched place in you…  Rejoicing that you felt that sense of being known.  Hoping you continue to feel the Lord’s embrace, and please, please know you are so very welcome here at Velvet Ashes.

  17. Kailyn May 14, 2014

    This interesting for me as a 21 year old MK whose parents are moving back to the states for good right now. It has been really hard for me to accept this in some ways. I have felt like my parent’s don’t really understand what it feels like for them to be leaving my home behind, the one place that i feel roots more than anywhere else. This post helped me to pause for a minute and think about how my parents feel after 10 years of service overseas and now to be moving back…

  18. Sue May 17, 2014

    Wow, I appreciated reading the article along with everyone’s comments. I have been overseas since 1983 and I have had every single one of these feelings at one time or another. So good to be understood and to feel like I can understand! I love that Velvet Ashes is available. How I think it would have helped me in the past (had we had email and internet then!). Thank you so much, Velvet Ashes, and Danielle, for your vision, care, sensitivity and insight! May God be glorified through you!

  19. Jen Stewart Fueston May 17, 2014

    Like many others have said, this is incredibly healing to read. I have been back from my time in Eastern Europe for almost 6 years – which is twice as long as I was away! – but there are parts of me that have never returned and I wonder if my life will always fall into the categories of “before m-work” and “after”. What you write here about feeling like you’re forfeiting a badge of honor when you come home rings so true! I wish we in the Church didn’t put us on such a high pedestal, then the fall off wouldn’t be such a long one!

  20. Jill June 2, 2014

    I just stumbled upon Velvet Ashes through a friend on the field.  We’ve been serving in Malawi, Africa for three years now.  We (my family of 5 which has now become 6) have been through a lot and we feel we’re still finding our place and our calling. Yet we know the Lord has us here for now.  I must admit though, we just came back to Malawi after furlough and I honestly didn’t want to.  This is the first time I haven’t been READY to return to the field.  I felt guilty.  I felt like a failure.  What was wrong with me?  I’m settling in ok now and the Lord is truly working all around me.  But a part of me wondered what others would think if we did leave the field.  We even discussed the fact that a certain number of years would be more preferable than two or three.  This post was just what I needed.  While the Lord has us here now I am going to need to remember these words if and when He returns us home.  And I know many others who have left and feel these same things.  I will share this with them. Thank you and I can’t wait to explore the site more!

    1. Cecily Willard June 3, 2014

      Hi, Jill!  Welcome to Velvet Ashes 🙂

      I have found this to be a good place for sharing the difficult emotions–the ones we tend to keep hidden.  But here we often see that our “hidden” thoughts and feelings are common to many.

      Your situation on the field is very different from mine, but we share the same struggle, the same questions.  THIS IS HARD!   We cry out on the inside.  Is this right?  We ask ourselves over and over again.  But in the midst of the difficulty and the questions we sense that we are where the Lord wants us to be.  But how can we sense this while feeling like such a failure?  Because life doesn’t work out the way we thought it would or should.

      I don’t know if my words are any comfort to you, for they offer no solutions.  I just wanted to welcome you here and let you know that I hear you, loud and clear.  Thank you for your openness.

      We look to the Lord who accepts the ointment of our lives that we pour out.  He is not put off by the mess.  May He show you this day how deeply He loves you in the midst of this.

  21. Stephanie June 29, 2014

    As I was looking through a few older posts this one can up and it is exactly what I needed to read. After a year serving with plans to keep serving for many years, my husband and I were notified that due to governmental changes in labor laws our organization could no longer keep us on in our current positions and that they don’t have anything else they see fit for us to do right now. We will have to move back home in 2 months. This was a massive devastating hit. It has totally turned our world upside down. I absolutely love what I do here and the feeling of it being ripped from me it so painful. I have had those sneaking lies whispered in my ear, “You must not be good enough if they aren’t trying to give you empty position.”, “You haven’t worked hard enough. Look at everything you didn’t get done.”, “What are the others going to think of you since you got chosen to be sent home?”, “What kinda of difference are you going to be able to make now?”,  “You are not as desirable of a person to keep.” They have been eating at me. The fear of the unknown. The shock of sudden change. The feelings of inadequacy and rejection. Although I know these are lies and really this situation has much more to do with the govenment than me, those creeping thoughts can really get in. Reading this post (and others on Velvet Ashes) has brought me comfort in this confusing and painful time. Thank you for sharing. Your thoughts have so hit my heart and explained my feelings.

  22. Cecily Willard June 29, 2014

    Dear Stephanie,

    Wow, what a blow!  I hear you.  I haven’t had exactly the same experience as you, but I can understand the feelings of helplessness, the sense of worthlessness, of waste, unfairness, all the questions…

    After working in an orphanage for 18 months–the reason why I packed up my life and moved to this foreign place, I was kicked out.  Yucky stuff happened.  People lied about me, I realized that I hadn’t done a good job of communicating, I suddenly realized there were expectations of me that nobody ever expressed and that I didn’t figure out on my own.  What about my reputation?  Who would continue to support me?  WHERE IS GOD IN THIS?!

    I have stayed on the field since this traumatic day in 2009, and my life is very different now.  So many tears and questions, but I am stronger now, much closer to the Lord.

    I know that sharing my own experience doesn’t fix anything for you, but I just wanted to say that I hear you and I understand a little bit of how you feel.  But, THANK GOD!, He is faithful!  Nothing takes Him by surprise.  His love for you is unaltered and He has a plan and a purpose for you.  You are so dear to Him, and He will not forget your service or forsake you in this huge change.  Please don’t walk in shame in this, because the Lord IS NOT ashamed of you.  You are well pleasing to Him, so hold onto that through the life-changing way that is ahead of you.

    1. Stephanie June 30, 2014

      Wow Cecily how difficult of a situation to be in. You words have really resonated with me. He is ALWAYS faithful to us and I don’t expect anything different from Him this time. I keep reminding myself that his timing is perfect and he is so much wiser than I.

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